Normal abdominal aorta by James Heilman

My DDU point form notes on abdominal aortic ultrasound and AAA…

The rest of my DDU notes are here.

Abdominal aorta and branches

Abdominal aorta and branches

Abdominal aortic aneurysm presentations

Suspect in > 60yo with any of


Presentations of AAA

Presentations of AAA

pulsatile abdominal mass

pain: abdominal, chest, back, renal “colic”

hypotension, syncope

weakness, neurological changes in extremities

USS technique

Probe: ideally curvilinear – alternative phased array

Orientation: Marker cephalad in longitudinal and right in transverse (like FAST)

Position: supine ± knee bend (rarely lateral decubitus)

Start transversely in midline below xiphoid → see IVC anterior and lateral to vertebral column and aorta to left of IVC

Scan down to aortic bifurcation

Repeat in longitudinalLongitudinal and transverse views of abdominal aorta from epigastrium to iliacs

Longitudinal and transverse views of abdominal aorta from epigastrium to iliacs


impediments to scanning and tips

Bowel gas (in transverse colon + stomach):

Steady pressure → bowel undergoes peristalsis or is compressed

Jiggle → peristalsis, move bowel aside

Fan through windows between loops of bowel

Position in lateral decubitus


Completely flat with hips and knees bent

Lower frequency

Surgical incisions, wounds, dressings


Look for


AAA scanning tips

AAA scanning tips


Aortic dissection

Aortic dissection

Aortic dissection


normal is ≤ 2 cm

can be focally dilated near RA junction due to TR


mistaking IVC for aorta (both pulsatile)

small AAA (<4.5 cm) can rupture (just less common than larger AAA)

locationto patient’s rightto patients’s left
anterior branches caudal to livernoyes
appearanceflatterround, non-compressible, brighter thicker walls

very sensitive for AAA cf insensitive for

  • rupture (mainly retroperitoneal → USS doesn’t reliably see • intraperitoneal rupture with free fluid seen on USS, poor prognosis)
  • dissection (floating intimal flap) – need to use CT or MRI to rule out if suspected (or if aortic root involved, TOE – suspect if pericardial effusion and AR)

Management algorithm for suspected AAA

Normal aorta → consider alternative Dx

AAA present, patient unstable or has acute symptoms due to AAA → vascular consult, prepare patient for surgery

in between (eg. incomplete exam, enlarged aorta, or normal exam but high suspicion) → CT ± vascular consult


Cover image: Normal abdominal aorta by James Heilman


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